Braden River graduates share a common goal: make the world a better place

‘We are strong.’ Duo speaks at Braden River’s 2019 graduation

Arianna Santiago and Nathan Thomas encourage the Class of 2019 at Braden River High School's graduation on May 16.
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Arianna Santiago and Nathan Thomas encourage the Class of 2019 at Braden River High School's graduation on May 16.

Thursday’s commencement speakers encouraged graduates of Braden River High School to find a path and walk it, even if the destination wasn’t clear, and regardless of the setbacks they were sure to face.

Setbacks aren’t the end. They represent a chance to learn, grow and start anew, said Alana Kelly, looking into a crowd of nearly 500 graduates at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.

“Stay in control,” she said. “Search relentlessly for something that makes you genuinely happy, and surround yourself with people who care about what’s best for you.”

She encouraged the graduates to be unrelenting in their pursuit to grow and make the world a better place. Always strive to improve yourself, and inspire others to do the same, Kelly said.

Kelly then handed the podium to Maria Vazquez, who immigrated to the United states at 5 years old. She learned English, embraced her opportunities and delivered a commencement speech at Thursday’s ceremony.

“We have all overcome many challenges in our lives,” she said. “We should face our future ones head on.”

Much like her peers, Vazquez encouraged the graduates to be a generation known for its kindness, optimism and loving nature. High school is about more than textbook lessons, she said.

It’s a time when young men and women start to learn about themselves, and how to appreciate others for their differences and talents.

“Without trying, we have all affected each other in a big way,” she said. “We have taught each other how to love, how to deal with pain or how to be ourselves.”

Vazquez went on to highlight the ambition of students who faced extraordinary challenges during high school. She congratulated those who overcame neglect, abuse or other traumatic events.

She praised the students who worked 40 hours a week to support their families, and those who overcame the loss of a friend or family member. Vazquez encouraged the graduates who battled with anxiety, depression or other health challenges.

And Vazquez applauded the immigrants who traveled to a new home, learned a second language and earned a seat at Thursday’s ceremony.

“To the ones who thought they wouldn’t be sitting here today — graduating,” she said.

The final commencement speech was a package deal. Arianna Santiago and Nathan Thomas spelled out their experience with students from Braden River High, home of the Pirates.

Alternating between each word, Santiago and Thomas said the Class of 2019 was:








Each said it took strength to earn a high school diploma, and even more courage to move forward, into the unknown. They celebrated Thursday’s graduates for their unique passions, and for their tireless pursuit of a bright tomorrow.

“I couldn’t be more thankful for this dedicated, hardworking, outspoken group of people sitting here today,” Thomas said.